Thursday, October 17, 2013

Eden's Economy

Let us pretend.  Let us pretend about an ideal economic utopia. 
What kind of people would we wish to be?  What would be our means of organization?  How would choices about resources be made?

A Thought Experiment

Imagine some future world where we have built robots.  

Lots of robots.  
Robots that act cleverly.   
Robots that crunch enormous amounts of data but do not think.  
Robots that can solve problems. 

Robots clever enough can build other robots.  
Robots clever enough to design other robots to do things.  
Robots clever enough to gather resources.  
Robots clever enough to transform those resources into goods and services.  

In this thought experiment, robots would do all the work.  
A human would never need labor except when she desired.
Every human want could be met.
Most human desires could be served.

In such a world, our desires would be limited only by the amount of resources available.

Economic Utopia

In such a Utopia words like "profit", "inflation", "wages", "debt", and even "money" would have no meaning. 
In such a utopia hard work doesn't mean much, as human labor would be unneeded. 
In such a system education would not be needed.
Some could say that the mythical Eden might have been like our imaginary economic utopia.   

Finite Resources

The only limits to our needs and desires would be resources.
The planet is only so big, the solar system has only such much matter and energy.
Like all eco-systems, eventually people and their desires would overwhelm the energy and material available.
Some kind of decisions would need be made to who gets the energy, who gets the material, how the resource is distributed.

Distribution Dilemma

So how then would we distribute the finite resources?  
What moral value system would we use to determine who gets goods and services? 
How shall we balance between need and desire?
What limits shall we place on humans?

If hard work has no meaning, what reason could be used determines who gets medicine?
If education is irrelevant, what reason could be used to determines who gets food?
Is how beautiful a person is the right way to divide resources?
Is how strong or fast or agile a person is the right way to decide who gets what?

What moral value system shall we use to achieve a just distribution?
What basis shall we use to determine what a "good life" is and reward it?

Economy Morality

While this thought experiment could probably never happen, it does illustrate what I think is a fundamental problem with many economic theories.

We, as human beings, seek each to have a "good life".  
Each of us may view what a "good life" is differently. 

Economics systems are only tools used by humankind to allow its individuals to seek "good lives".

Concepts about hard work, education, beauty, or strength are arbitrary ways to distribute resources, they are not necessarily the most moral means of distribution.

What ever economic system we seek, we should first and foremost have a moral code that values humans above all else.

The value of each human being ought outweigh the circumstance of their birth.
The value of each human being ought outweigh their beauty, strength, or lack of opportunity.
No system of economics which does not place morality at its core will serve its participants well.

It is in the best interest of the entire population of humankind to ensure a distribution of resources that works for the majority of the population.

Dismal Reality

To date, no one has come up with a moral economic system that actually works.  
Instead we trend between the extremes of "I got mine" or "Everybody gets the same".  
Both of these polar opposites are only vague approximations of moral distribution of resources.

I do not know the answer to how a moral economy could be achieved.

Capitalism, socialism, communism,laissez-faire, and objectivism all are only poor attempts at a moral economics.

Although many pretend; no one, in fact, seems to know the answer to this ancient puzzle of Eden.  


  1. Do you truly believe the morals section Mark? I generally love all your posts, but this one feels emotionally driven. What level of social complexity (individual, nuclear family,..., humanity, the planet) is the correct level to deem worthy of 'morality,' and what time horizon (a generation, a century, a million years) do we use as a basis for basing our moral constructs upon? Because tell me you are an individual with a 45 minute time horizon and I will ascribe you a far different moral philosophy from someone with a 10,000 year, earth-based life centric model.

  2. Yes, the morals section is intentionally expressive.

    I have read a bunch of political and economic philosophy the last couple of years and have found this wanting hole of defining the "good life". When the ancient Greeks asked this question, they did not think in terms of economy, money or finance.

    The "good life", as defined by Buddha, Jesus, or Aristotle, actually suggests that the desire of things, money, or power are distractions from the good life.

    On the opposite side is a pragmatic reality of how to divide up resources most efficiently. Much of modern economic philosophy as practices is much more concerned with maximizing material and money than morally.

    Clearly different technological eras have changed the potential of what a "good life" could be. Greater resources and value are available to be distributed.

    Even assuming our current economic models are striving for the maximum production at lowest cost, at some point, we will be saturated in wealth; more than enough for everyone. What then do we do?